Sloppy Joes

I can remember Sloppy Joes when I was a kid and loved them. Occasionally, they would appear on our school lunch menu and we all thought they were a special treat! It helps that the sandwich is popular with all ages. Even today, the Sloppy Joe is considered a budget-friendly and kid-friendly food.

Sloppy Joes became popular in the 1930s as a way for families to stretch their food a bit. Inexpensive cuts of meat combined with a tomato sauce and fillers like onion could feed a lot of people, especially when you served it on bread for a complete meal.

How they got the name is under debate. Some claim the name originated from either a bar in Havana, Cuba that was popular with Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s or a bar in Key West, Florida both named Sloppy Joes. Another guess it that they were often served in the 1930s by restaurants called “Sloppy Joes” and in turn the sandwiches were called the same. Others say its because the fact that the sandwiches are messy to eat as the reason for the name.

Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida. (Photo from National Trust of Historic Preservation)

They may be messy but they are simple and delicious to make. I’m not ashamed to admit that I still look at them as a special treat.


1 Tbls. butter

1 Tbls. olive oil

1 lb. ground beef

1/3 cup green pepper, minced

1/2 cup onion, minced (red onion preferred)

3 cloves garlic, minced

2/3 cup ketchup

1 Tbls. tomato paste

1/3 cup water

1 Tbls. brown sugar

1 tsp. mustard

3/4 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

Dash or two hot sauce, optional


Heat butter and oil over medium or medium-high heat. Add beef. Cook until brown and crumbly, about 5-6 minutes. Drain beef, leaving a teaspoon or so of fat in skillet. Set beef aside.

In same skillet, with heat on medium, add onion and pepper, cook 2-3 minutes until it begins to soften, add garlic, cook 30 seconds.

Add beef back to pan with tomato paste, stir well.  Add remaining ingredients, stir well. Cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until it reaches desired thickness. Remove from heat. Serve on toasted buns.

Thanks to my niece Jennifer for supplying the recipe. I know what I’m serving for dinner tonight. Yum!

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